Summary: How to overcome evil with good.
Romans 12:14. The positive imperative is to “bless” those who persecute us. This is similar to the teaching of Jesus (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27-28). The supreme example is that of Jesus Himself (1 Peter 2:21-23). This partly involved Jesus praying for His persecutors (Luke 23:34); an example followed by the church’s first martyr, Stephen (Acts 7:60).
The negative imperative is “curse not.” This does not just mean, ‘do not swear’, although it may include that, but it is rather a warning against a tit-for-tat vindictiveness (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:15; 1 Peter 3:9). Jesus warned James and John against such an attitude (Luke 9:51-56).
Romans 12:15. “Rejoice with rejoicing ones, and weep with weeping ones.” Elizabeth’s friends and relatives rejoiced with her (Luke 1:58). Jesus wept with Mary of Bethany and her companions (John 11:33-35).
Going back to the analogy of the church as the body of Christ (Romans 12:4-5), Paul says elsewhere: ‘If one member suffer, all the members suffer; if one member be glorified, all the members rejoice’ (1 Corinthians 12:26). This is what we might call the empathy of the body (cf. Hebrews 13:3).
Romans 12:16. “The same thing toward one another minding, not high things minding.” By my count, this is the sixth and seventh reference to the mind in this chapter (cf. Romans 12:2; Romans 12:3). It is, after all, all about mind-set (cf. Romans 8:5). Not that we are all clones, thinking exactly the same thing as one another on EVERY topic. There is unity in diversity, creating HARMONY rather than dissonance (cf. Romans 15:5). We are ‘likeminded’ in the basics of the faith, ‘of one accord’ and ‘of one mind’ (Philippians 2:2).
“Not high things minding, but with the lowly going along.” There is a warning against having ‘respect of persons’ in James 2:1-4. There is no respect of persons with God (Acts 10:34; Romans 2:11), so we too should be without partiality.
The paradox is that we must become ‘a fool’ (in the world’s eyes) in order to be truly wise (1 Corinthians 3:18). After all, we cleave to the ‘foolishness’ of the cross (1 Corinthians 1:18) and the ‘foolishness’ of preaching (1 Corinthians 1:21). But we also cleave to ‘Christ the wisdom of God’ (1 Corinthians 1:24).
The corollary is “Providing good before all men.” The Greek word translated “providing” has the sense here of ‘striving to exhibit’ (cf. 2 Corinthians 8:21). This is also in keeping with Jesus’ teaching (Matthew 5:16).
Romans 12:18. “If possible, as to yourselves, with all men being at peace.” The first clause “if possible” is objective, suggesting that there may be a situation where, despite all our efforts, the other party is the one making peace impossible. This is not compromise, or ‘peace at any price’: but it is our responsibility “as much lies in us” to strive for peace. If we fail, at least let it not be because we did not try.
This, of course, is impossible for the natural man. It is only possible for those in whom ‘the peace of God’ rules (Colossians 3:15). Such peace is a fruit of the ‘wisdom from above’ (James 3:17-18). ‘Blessed are the peacemakers,’ said Jesus (Matthew 5:9).
Romans 12:19. “Not yourselves avenging, beloved, but give place to the wrath; for it has been written, ‘To Me vengeance! I will recompense, says the LORD’ (cf. Deuteronomy 32:35)” Notice that the Apostle calls his readers “beloved” because this is, after all, a call to agape love.
Note the definite article (often missed out in translations): “The wrath” to which we must give place is ‘the wrath of God’ (cf. Romans 1:18)! We are reminded, again, of the example of Jesus (1 Peter 2:23). Read Psalm 37:5-8.
Romans 12:20. Rather than pursuing vengeance, the Christian is encouraged to positive favourable action on behalf of their enemy (cf. Proverbs 25:21-22). This is all part of ‘loving your enemies’ (Matthew 5:44). Thereby we might even shame him into a change of mind (i.e. repentance!)
Romans 12:21. “Be not overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.” Evil overcomes us when we curse rather than bless (Romans 12:14); recompense evil for evil (Romans 12:17); and avenge ourselves (Romans 12:19). We overcome evil with good by blessing our persecutors (Romans 12:14); when we strive to exhibit good before all men (Romans 12:17); and when we love and perform favourable action on behalf of our enemy (Romans 12:20).